Aug. 24, 2010 -- With budgets shrinking, many schools across the country are asking parents to buy a lot more than glue sticks to hold it all together.
Despite having received $10 billion in emergency federal government funding earlier this month to assist with shortfalls, schools are still tightening their pocketbooks when it comes to paying for supplies.
Although the intention was that the districts would spend the money on rehiring teachers and ending furloughs, some districts are holding on to the money, fearing that big deficits could be looming next year and saying that the money could prevent future layoffs.
Districts are now looking to their students to foot the bill for supplies, creating concern among many parents.
"We've heard some stories that they've said, 'Well, we might not have enough money next year. So we'll just not do anything this year.' That doesn't make any sense," said Lily Eskelsen, vice president of the National Education Association. "A kid only has one year to be a first grader."
No matter the age, it seems as though students are already receiving an early lesson in economics.
"A lot of my students come from homes where parents are unemployed," said Janet Buchser, a special needs teacher. "They're limited to what they can spend on school supplies."
The National Retail Foundation estimates that the average family will spend $96 on school supplies, which is nearly 10 percent more than last year. In fact, back-to-school spending comes in second only to the holidays.
When clothing and electronics are added in, the the national back-to-school bill could run around $55 billion.
"To expect all the parents to spend that kind of money, it's asking for a lot," said Peter Visconti, whose daughter Nena is going to kindergarten. "I'm shopping around. I am trying to save costs."
This year, his daughter's supply list included two boxes of tissues, baby wipes and Ziploc bags.
Students in Joshua, Texas, were asked to bring Dixie cups and paper plates, while second-graders at Maryville Elementary in Collinsville, Ill., saw dry-erase markers, 40 No. 2 pencils and cotton socks on their list.
For students at St. Joseph Elementary in Seattle, it was mops and plastic utensils, while sandwich bags crept their way onto the list for those in Chaska, Minn.
Some students in Grand Junction, Colo., had to get batteries and headphones, while kids in Chadron, Neb., checked flash drives and garbage bags off of their list.
"On the first day of school, I'll have to take them because I'll have two bags of stuff," said Victor Reid, who was shopping for his two teenagers. "They couldn't carry it."
Teachers Paying for School Supplies
In places where parents are not picking up the bill, teachers are being forced to dig even deeper. Fourth-grade teacher Ralph Losanno said he has already spent $400 out of his own pocket before the school year has even started.
"Everything -- the tape, scissors, the pencils, the tissues, hand sanitizer," Losanno said. "When you think about 25 kids, it adds up quickly."
Losanno is not alone. Kindergarten teacher Kristin White has spent at least $700 of her own money in the last month.
Jillian Cox, a first-grade teacher, said that although a lot of the back-to-school essentials that would typically come from proper school funding are now being paid for from her wallet, she does not necessarily mind the inconvenience.
"It's worth it for me to spend the money because I see the results," Cox said. "I see what the kids get out of it. But, of course, it'd be nice if I didn't have to do that."
'Back-to-School' Specials: A Matter of Survival
But there is some relief. Office Depot has discount programs and special back-to-school deals specifically for teachers. One such promotion is the "Penny Specials," which allows teachers to purchase certain products for less than a dollar. Such specials include a 25-cent student compass, or an acrylic ruler that actually costs one penny.
The company also features the free "Star Teacher Program," a way for educators to save on popular items. For instance, members can receive up to 10 percent back in rewards on ink, toner and paper, and one percent on everything else. They can also get exclusive discounts on travel, retail and other services at select companies.
Yet no amount of discounts can heal the financial pain that some schools continue to face.
For John Von Rohr, principal of Spartanburg Charter School in South Carolina, the situation is dire, particularly because charter schools receive less funding than public schools in the state. Despite receiving a $50,000 grant, the school has designated only $5000 for curriculum materials.
"It's just a matter of survival for us," Von Rohr said. "[It depends] on donations and stuff to keep things going."